More conservatives are proposing action on climate change.
Wisconsin’s Republican leaders should join the conversation and effort.
James Baker and George Schultz, former Cabinet secretaries under President Ronald Reagan, outlined their proposal for a revenue-neutral carbon tax Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal. Their column, “A conservative answer to climate change,” suggests a gradually increasing $40-per-ton charge on carbon emissions, with proceeds going directly to the American people.
Baker, Schultz and other conservative thinkers were set to brief Vice President Mike Pence on the idea this week. They want their GOP colleagues who control Washington to lead on the issue, rather than ignoring the problem while Democrats press for solutions.
“The extent to which climate change is due to man-made causes can be questioned,” the GOP elder statesmen wrote in their op-ed. “But the risks associated with future warming are so severe that they should be hedged.”
Their reasonable approach, unlike former President Obama’s strategy, doesn’t require heavy government regulation. Instead, the carbon tax would signal to the free market that businesses and consumers need to figure out the most efficient ways to reduce their carbon footprints. That might include investing in clean energy or buying machines that use less power.
A family of four would receive about $2,000 the first year in quarterly refunds from the tax, which would more than offset higher energy costs, according to the plan. Many economists think those rebates will stimulate economic growth. About 70 percent of Americans would come out ahead, including most working-class people.
The plan would rebate money to U.S. companies that export products to nations without similar carbon pricing, and charge a fee on imports from those countries. Business leaders including Rob Walton, chairman of Walmart for 23 years, have endorsed the levy on carbon, which is similar to a plan by Citizens Climate Lobby in Wisconsin.
A tax-and-rebate system would allow quick repeal of Obama’s Clean Power Plan and justify ending civil legal liability for carbon emitters.
Many Democrats have long favored a carbon tax, though some want the proceeds spent on government programs. Steering the money to citizens instead, while limiting the growth of government, should be more popular with the public and Congress. Republicans have a responsibility to lead on the issue because they are in power, Baker and Schultz wrote, and doing so will help the GOP appeal to younger voters.
President Trump belittled climate science during his campaign yet pledged an open mind after his election. Wisconsin’s congressional delegation – including House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville – should help persuade the president that climate change, in the words of Baker and Schultz, is one of “the defining challenges of our era.”